Three years ago, a young 22-year-old man my son knew was walking along a local overpass that is one of the busiest traffic corridors in the Boulder area.
For some reasons that we’ll never really know, this young man – deeply loved by his family and his friends – made a decision; one that ignited ripples of impact across the lives of so many other people.
He decided to follow through with a choice he must have made before even getting to the overpass. He went to the railing, hiked one leg and then the other over the railing, and made the last decision of his life when he jumped.
He was critically injured upon impact, before an unwitting and innocent driver of an SUV hit him, finishing the task that the young man had set out to accomplish by jumping.
Recently, a similarly-aged young man made an equally indecipherable decision to commit mass murder in a theater about 40 minutes from my home. The tragedy he inflicted upon so many innocent people – dead and injured – still renders me heartbroken, enraged, and frustrated.
I did not know either man and it seems, at least to some degree, neither did the people close to them. They seem to have had no idea who these men had become … the level of confusion they were undergoing … the level of pain and hopelessness they were suffering. Or, maybe they did, but had no idea of how to help.
The loved ones left to heal from the debris are wondering why they couldn’t have made the difference they wished they could have. Some wonder why they couldn’t have seen the signs in enough time, and with enough clarity, to have been able to stop or prevent such tradgedy.
Do you ever wonder why, when someone’s in THAT much pain, THAT lost within themselves, they don’t ask for, or let themselves receive, help? Perhaps you have a pretty acute sense of the quiet desperation and despair that most of us deal with – on one level or another – and the perverse paradox of how seductive it gets to suffer in silence and isolation.
Maybe you’re tolerating that in your life, directly or through another. We often just say “Oh, it’s depression…I’ll get through it (usually on your own).” Yet, one of the most insidious things about depression is that it so convincingly assures you that no one can help, no one or no thing will be able to make any difference…it’s best to just try to figure it out yourself…or just resign yourself to it never being able to get better, followed by numbing it with either substances or overwork, or maybe even suicide.
While this is not unique to just men, men suffer a particular shame – often a hidden shame, even to them – about asking for help. Hell, we often have a hard time even telling the whole truth about how we’re REALLY feeling, period.
Somehow, the fear of being perceived as weak or being a wuss trumps the substantial self-love and self-respect it takes to allow yourself to get supported, when you just don’t have the remotest idea of what the hell to do with what you’re feeling.
Added to that, a lot of you are dealing with so many changes and stresses, unparalleled in your lifetime, you’ve likely subtly (or not-so-subtly) become so self-absorbed that you’re drastically losing your level of presence to yourself and others.
It’s really time to check and see if you’re awake enough…most people, at least the ones I see in my practice, are quickly seeing how much they’ve been sleeping in. It’s getting to the point where this individual and collective self-absorption, along with intense levels of fear, renders you unable to even look at your brothers or sisters around you from a sensitive & empathetic enough place to be able to recognize when your loved one (or yourself) is bullshitting themselves so masterfully that you’ve gotten drawn into the deceit right along with them. Men are experts at this.
No one but Holmes and the young man a few years ago were responsible for their choices but themselves. However, my heart is especially wrenched with sadness over isolation and internal dislocation that I think it takes to do what they each did.
Yet, if we don’t find meaning and learning in tragedies like this, we just risk actually deepening the collective ennui and resignation that’s actually a part of the problem itself. How can you do that for yourself, your loved ones, and your relationships that may be suffering from some of that same sense of resignation, flatness, and isolation?
The first step is to snap out of the fear and self-referential daze that you, me, and so many others so easily get seduced and mystified by. I urge you to really get out of your heads when you’re with people you love, and start listening to them with your heart.
Feel INTO them. How do they feel to you? Does their energy match what they’re saying when they tell you they’re “fine?” If not, take the risk of going deeper with them…don’t let them off the hook.
If you’re a man suffering like this, or watching another man suffering, encourage them to get to a men’s group as soon as possible. Trust your instincts and take the chance of annoying them with your deeper probing (to me, the consequences of NOT doing that justify the flak you may take for doing it). Go online and read the top signs of high-risk for suicide, and watch. If you, or someone you love, is suffering from any of those symptoms, ask for and seek out help.
None of us deserve to suffer the costs of not asking for help, nor do we have the right – through our own self-neglect – to then cause the level of suffering in our loved ones and others these two men caused.